Offering prayer and encouragement via smartphone to terrified Ukrainians under Russian attack has become the reality for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Mina and Gennady Podgaisky.
“Last night I was giving counseling at 3 in the morning to people in the shelters. Our days are not normal days,” Mina said March 5 from North Carolina. “Sometimes we stay at it until 5 in the morning.”
The Podgaiskys, who are American citizens, have served in Kyiv, Ukraine, since 2002 and were in the U.S. for an off-field assignment when Russia invaded the country Feb. 24.
“We immediately started getting messages from Ukraine when the invasion started. That first day we worked from midnight until 5 encouraging people. The people there were terrified,” Mina said, explaining that Ukraine’s time zone is seven hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast.
She and Gennady have been in shock, too. “All I did was cry for two days. It was just tears coming out, just water coming out of my eyes all day long.”
Mina said she and Gennady have much to cry and pray about in trying to keep track of the foster children and families nurtured at their Village of Hope ministry near Kyiv, as well as with those they served through Bible studies, pastoral counseling sessions, couples retreats, family seminars and youth ministries.
“Some people, some of the families, have gotten out. They are going west, but not everyone wants to leave the country because their husbands cannot get out because men 18 to 60 must stay if they do not have at least three children,” Mina said about Ukraine’s military conscription requirement. “Many of these people also want to stay in western Ukraine to help other Ukrainians.”
Those who have remained behind are hunkered down in basements and bomb shelters —with Russian bombs, rockets and artillery shells crashing around them. Mina and Gennady often hear the explosions over their phones.
One woman reached out March 4 saying, “‘I’m having a panic attack. I need your peace,’” Mina said, while a local pastor shared an image of a Russian rocket that landed a few feet from his house without exploding. “You could see the rocket sticking out of the ground.”
The stress also is evident in their friends’ voices, faces and emails, she added. “Many days in bomb shelters, and the bombing outside, does something to your spirit that can shake your faith.”
This often forces the couple to give unprecedented guidance to those in the greatest danger.
“The woman — the one with the panic attack — and her family had 23 people in their unfinished basement, including seven kids. Food was running down. She decided to leave with the kids, but she wasn’t doing well. She was showing signs of PTSD. So we told her to move west to give her a break from hearing all the shelling.”
After three days of providing that counseling, CBF Member Care stepped in to offer emotional and spiritual support to the Podgaiskys too, Mina said. “So now we are meeting with a professional counselor. We meet weekly to process our experience. If we didn’t have that, I’m not sure how effective we would be.”
They also have received guidance in rescheduling planned visits to American congregations that have partnered with their Ukrainian ministry, Mina said. “We had booked every Sunday, and in fact we had only one Sunday and one Wednesday free until the end of April. Member Care said, ‘Now, this is too much. It’s taking too much out of you,’” she said. “So, we have moved some of the churches into May and anything else that’s new we are scheduling in June.”
Mina, Gennady and their three adult children also are struggling with survivor’s guilt from being safe in the United States during the invasion, she said.
“By day four or five we all wanted to go back. We are in the stage of grief that is anger. My husband, who is Russian and served in the Russian military and is third-generation Baptist, is struggling with that anger. We all have the anger,” said Mina, a Baptist who was born in Mexico.
“We are in the stage of grief that is anger.”
In addition to their daily pastoral counseling sessions, the Podgaiskys have been helping raise money to care for the many orphans already created during the Russian invasion. They also are trying to mobilize prayer support for Ukrainians through social media, during church visits and in all other encounters.
“The number one thing we need is prayer,” Mina said. “This is God’s battle, and it is very important that we unite in prayer to help Ukraine.”
Responses from friends in Ukraine and in their own counseling sessions have helped the Podgaiskys turn the corner emotionally, she added. “We want to go back, but right now we realize the incredible support we can provide from here. We can function better without being targets of the shooting. The networking and fundraising we are doing can only be done from outside the country. We are now realizing that, at this moment, this is our place to be.”
Way to give to help the people of Ukraine:
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